Socio-Economic Balance, Rule of Law and Strong Institutions: A Pathway to Combat Baloch Insurgency

The longstanding kinetic measures since the onset of the fifth phase of the Baloch Insurgency have not put an end to the fierceness of Baloch ethno-nationalist militants. The alternative to this – the non-kinetic approach – has not been as dramatically practised as looked-for. The absence of socio-economic indicators, civil-military imbalance in Pakistan, injustice and lack of inclusive and transparent institutions have further complicated the solution to scotch militancy in Balochistan. The loopholes in understanding the complex phenomenon of grievances-based insurgency in Balochistan need rigorous efforts and proactive policy response at the state level. Promoting an integrated society for sustainable development, access to justice, and making the country’s institutions more accountable and inclusive would abate the threat of militancy on a long-term basis.

Since 2004, with the prevalence of insurgency, the kinetic approach to its determination is still a sticking point for the mitigation of the problem in the province. In September 2022, seven militant attacks were carried out by Balochistan Liberation Tigers (BLT) and Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA). Even new terror outfits like the Baloch Nationalist Army (BNA) have emerged. Though a decrease transpires over time in the number of violent attacks, it does not mean that militancy has declined to a larger extent. Eventually, it gets its strength again as a result of the lack of well-thought-out counterinsurgent strategies on the societal level. This is the history of the province since the killing of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti in August 2006, where attacks on security personnel, civilians and CPEC projects are sometimes declining and sometimes rising due to a lack of satisfactory counter-measures on both operational and societal levels. Fresh recruitments of young men and women joining militant organisations are either a consequence of socio-economic marginalisation and political failure in the development of the province or injustice and lack of accountability along with discrimination of human rights. The recruitment of women like Shari Baloch and well-educated post-graduate students like Ehsan and Shahdad Baloch to join such terror outfits are some apparent examples.

So, the statistics show that the poverty in the province is approximately equal to the poverty in both Punjab and Sindh or Punjab and KP combinedly. The gaps in such socio-economic indicators consequently lead to second-order impacts based on undeniable inequality among all the provinces.

The socio-economic marginalisation of the country’s largest province is one of the leading causes of prolonged Baloch insurgency. Ending poverty in all forms has not noticed any fruitful results. As per the 2021 report released by the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE), during the 2018-19 period, Balochistan stood at 40.7 per cent in poverty, whereas Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) stood at 16.3 per cent, 24.6 per cent and 27 per cent, respectively. So, the statistics show that the poverty in the province is approximately equal to the poverty in both Punjab and Sindh or Punjab and KP combinedly. The gaps in such socio-economic indicators consequently lead to second-order impacts based on undeniable inequality among all the provinces.

Development in the region should be the utmost priority of the concerned authorities to reduce the economic gaps and ameliorate education, employment and business opportunities so the citizens’ disposition towards violent means does not expand. The 2008 report unveiled by the World Bank added that the province witnessed the weakest long-term growth and the worst quality of employment, and the weakest social development when compared to other provinces of the state. These socio-economic gaps should not go unnoticed. Rather, the government should notify them as soon as possible. Further, the government should offer some employment opportunities to the Baloch citizens amid the ongoing CPEC projects across Balochistan before their completion. So, it can change the perception of the local populace regarding development with Chinese characteristics in the province that has been manipulated by some militant organisations and other anti-Pakistan elements within and abroad.

The persistence of Baloch militancy is not purely based on low economic growth, unemployment and low standard of education in the province that led to violence; several overlooked factors like civil-military imbalance, weak institutions and injustice have their role in its continuation.

This is beyond sayings that Pakistan has suffered to a large extent due to fissures in the civil-military relations that have direct consequences for coping with the largest militancy in the country. The combined approach of both civil and military leadership to militancy is still uncertain due to power imbalance – the objective civilian control (the maximisation of military power) in the country is more dominant than the subjective civilian control (maximising civilian power). It affects decision-making regarding how to deal with terrorism and militancy in the country, where one often seeks to employ a kinetic approach while the other desires soft measures to grapple with the militancy challenges. However, the failure of the political leadership to resolutely uplift the socio-economic condition of Balochistan has always given a chance to the military to intervene and play its part.

The question of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings amid the current scenario in the province is a prevalent concern that affects the efficacy and credibility of both the military and civilian institutions. Lack of institutional autonomy to deliver justice to the citizens and not making the cases of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances more accountable and institutionalised under the umbrella of the state’s constitution are the primary obstacles in its way to finding an inclusive solution to curb this fifth violent phase. It is still hazy whether the military has brought some missing persons (being militant) into courts to prove them “being militants” and later punish them under the state’s counter-terrorism laws. Because other missed ones, whose families acclaimed them innocent, will not create any opacity with those who are militants’ accomplices. Such ambiguity provokes others who are uncertain of their missing ones. Therefore, states’ institutions should be blatantly clear on who are the real perpetrators are and who the innocent ones. Why is this important? Because this process will make the entire process of the country’s justice system more constitutional, autonomous and credible.

Following the latest trends of militancy, the question of enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings and other political and socio-economic indicators need efforts and proactive policy response at the state level. Promoting the rule of law and fundamental freedom and ensuring equal access to justice will not only make our insinuations more effective, transparent and reliable but represent the country as a whole as an emblem of democracy. What it bears is accelerating the Baloch’s desire for more autonomy of the province rather than an independent state. The bleak picture of Balochistan’s socio-economic indicators desperately impacts the human lives in the province. Therefore, it is imperative to make a well-calibrated strategy to carry out the capacity building of the institutions concerned.

Sajad Ahmad

Sajjad Ahmad is working as a Communications Assistant at CSCR.

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